Growing up in Albany, Ga., fourth-year pharmacy student Robert “Bo” Spires ’14, Pharm.D./ M.B.A., often dreamed of owning his own business. Little did the former electrical engineer know that one day he would fulfill that desire — not as an engineering consultant but as a pharmacist. While he found his former career professionally challenging, Spires’ ongoing interest in the health sciences, passion for people and entrepreneurial aspirations eventually led him to consider a career in pharmacy.
“As an engineer, I designed gadgets and GPS devices for guided missile systems,” said Spires. “I loved the problem-solving side of it, but I missed interacting with people. It was a very isolated type of work that just didn’t fit my personality.”
Changing careers wasn’t an easy decision, but pharmacy just seemed the right fit.
“I liked the type of life pharmacy could provide,” he said. “I could go to work for someone else or I could run my own pharmacy. Mostly, I liked that I could influence people, affect their health and make them feel better and improve their quality of life. That’s really what I wanted to do as a professional.”
While continuing to work days, Spires took prerequisite courses at night, then applied and was accepted to Shenandoah University’s Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy.
“I wanted to learn in an atmosphere where teaching was the main focus,” he explained. “That was one of the big draws for me at Shenandoah. Plus, they offered the dual-degree M.B.A. I knew that combining those skill sets would help me achieve my goals.
Meeting the Whites
During his second year of pharmacy school, Spires received a Eugene V. White scholarship. Eugene (Gene) V. White, P.C., and his wife, Laura Fontaine White ’70, owned and operated a professional office practice, Eugene V. White, Pharmacist, P.C., in Berryville, Va., for 43 years. During the early 1960s, White chose to revolutionize his business model, pioneering today’s prototype pharmaceutical center into what is now common practice — emphasizing patient care rather than retail merchandising. In tribute, their pharmacy was transferred to the Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy as a museum.
“Gene’s vision led to a standard of care embraced by a new generation of pharmacists who understood the importance of patient education, medication therapy management and the acquisition of the knowledge and skills to make it all work,” said Dean of the Bernard J. Dunn School of Pharmacy Alan McKay, Pharm.D. “It’s a model that’s been studied and adopted by pharmacists worldwide.”
According to Associate Vice President for Alumni Affairs Jane Danchisen Pittman ’89, both Gene — who passed away in December 2011 — and Laura enjoyed getting to know their scholarship recipients and encouraging them throughout their time at Shenandoah. In March 2012, Spires, along with two other scholarship recipients, had the opportunity to meet Laura and her daughter, Patricia (Pat) White, at a luncheon arranged by the Office of Advancement.
“I remember I arrived early, so we had some time to talk,” said Spires. “When they asked me what I was planning to do after graduation, I explained that I wanted to complete a residency and later run my own pharmacy in a small town. I talked about my vision for a patient-centered practice, with counseling rooms as well as a compounding and dispensing center. I told them how I wanted to provide preventive services, like diabetes and blood pressure training, and how I hoped to change perceptions of what a pharmacist could do within a community.”
Meanwhile, the pharmacy serving the Berryville community had recently closed, leaving residents — individuals and families the Whites had served for decades — without a local pharmacist. Both Pat and Laura White felt a growing concern for their neighbors. They felt Spires’ passion for and commitment to a community pharmacy concept resonated deeply with Gene’s family practice model.
“When we first met Bo and he shared that he wanted to own his own practice, live in a small town and work with the people, I thought to myself, ‘Boy, that sounds like my husband, because that was his goal when we came to Berryville,’” said Mrs. White.
A few days later, Pat White asked her mother to consider supporting the creation of a new pharmacy in Berryville.
“I called her and said, ‘Mom, I know this is a crazy idea, but Bo would be perfect for Berryville, and I could hold down the fort until he graduated,’”said White.
Her mother, who would step up to finance the project, agreed, and, without skipping a beat, began reciting a list of tasks that would be required to move the project forward.
“When she asked me, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘It’s a wonderful idea, and you have the right person,’” said Mrs. White.
The rest, as they say, is history.
About a week after their initial meeting, the mother-and-daughter team invited Spires and his wife, Becky, to dinner to propose their idea and determine the couple’s interest in making a long-term commitment to the project.
“They said, ‘Your goals are right in line with what Gene had in mind, and we’d like to try to meet the needs of the people in Berryville and open up a pharmacy,’” said Spires. “They explained how they wanted me to come into the practice and, and if I was willing to stay in this area, to eventually buy it out.”
Building on a Legacy
After a night of deliberation, the Spires and Whites enthusiastically agreed to the venture. The team developed a business plan, with Pat serving as president and head pharmacist, and Amber Darr, Pharm.D. ’01, serving as a relief pharmacist while Spires completed his doctoral studies. With planning and months of hard work, the project began to take shape. Laura and Pat, along with Pat’s daughter, Alexis Hott, began executing the plan, renovating a storefront property at 33 West Main St. in Berryville on the western end of the block where the original White’s Pharmacy building — now a rug store — originally stood. The team collaborated on a floor plan and ordered equipment, furniture, kiosks and supplies, and Spires remained involved throughout the process. Like White’s Pharmacy before it, the new practice would focus exclusively on patient care. On November 20, 2013, Battletown Pharmacy officially opened its doors for business, serving the community Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“All the pieces of the puzzle just came together,” said Spires.
Now completing his fourth year and his last semester of pharmacy school, Spires plans to graduate in May, then complete an administrative residency before joining the staff at Battletown Pharmacy.
“I think a residency is a good idea because it will provide me with administrative and hands-on, clinical expertise,” he said. “I’m looking forward to bringing those skills back to Battletown Pharmacy.
“There are a lot of things about managing a community pharmacy that are very attractive to me,” said Spires. “I’m excited about getting involved and becoming a part of the community. I want to get to know the families and make a difference. That’s what draws me to it.”
As his life as a practicing pharmacist begins, Spires, his wife and 5-year-old daughter also expect another first, the arrival of a second child, a son, due just weeks after graduation.
“Bo just seems to be the perfect fit,” said Mrs. White. “We have a pretty special relationship with Shenandoah University. When I talked to the professors, they said, ‘We understand you are going to open up another pharmacy,’ and I said, ‘Yes we are, and we’re going to have one of your students run it when he gets through school.’ When they asked me who and when, I told them, and they said, ‘Oh boy, you have the cream of the crop.’ So our judgments were solid. We hit the nail on the head for the right one. I feel that he will fit this community perfectly.”
Spires plans to build on Gene White’s legacy for community service and patient care. He also hopes to add his own stamp to the practice, even as the role of community pharmacist continues to evolve.
“With computer systems and connections with local physicians, we can make a contribution to our patients’ health and serve the community as a united health care team,” said Spires.